Teaching on this powerful distinction reminded me of a section from my book The OUTLAW Protocol that explores this topic further:
That we spend so much time worrying is a product of our programming, not a natural process of a productive mind. While any mind is naturally inclined to respond to threats and rewards in kind, our current level of sympathetic nervous system activation (fight or flight) is both an indication and result of our programmed inclination to worry.
We’re addicted to worrying.
The greatest irony in this relationship to constant anxiety is that most of us — myself included — live marshmallow soft lives. Lives where real fear — caused by imminent danger — is farther away by far, than the fantasy of the possibility of future fear is. Most people don’t experience fear as such. What most of us experience can better be described as anxiety — the fear of the future experience of fear.
The distinct difference is that fear is real and seldom experienced, while anxiety is imaginary and often experienced.
When we allow the small self to play with the possibility of crisis, we create imaginary fear for the possible events of the future. Anxiety turns our otherwise tranquil inner landscape into a war zone creating a negative energetic state in our body-minds, despite and irrespective of what is actually happening around us. Part of the allure of harboring a state of anxiety is the planning that must accompany it in preparing for the events of the imagined future. The result, however, is the pollution of our presence with its pull to the future, the blocking of our thoughts from accessing an actionable plan in the now.
Trapped in a place that is not here but there, a state of frustration sets in due to our inability to do anything about the fantasy currently playing itself out in our heads — both responsible for this state and perpetuating it, our anxieties distract us from performing anything productive in the now. When we lack presence, anxiety creates a split between us and the present moment, robbing us of the ability to make an actionable choice. The longer we spend in this state, the more powerful the anxiety becomes as it carries within it an ability to multiply itself and feed off of our lack of presence.
Our anxiety, and the small self that stokes it, will even go so far as to create the conditions that produce the events we supposedly fear so much, events that when they occur will then seem to have been productively preordained, fueling a destructive and confusing loop that the small self is all too happy to help perpetuate in order to make itself seem right after the fact.
In this light, anxiety can be seen for what it often is — the root cause of calamity, not just a byproduct of it.
Fear, on the other hand, is a useful tool in the evolutionary sense, one that fuels the body to excellent heights in response to real threats.
I’ve experienced this distinct difference between real fear and imagined anxiety both during my time spent in war zones and during my time training as a mixed martial artist. In both, a healthy amount of fear propelled me to safety during intense periods of training, evading and fighting where danger was real and imminent, compared to times of relative tranquility wasted fearing fear immersed in the imagination of negative events to come. When we encounter a threat, real or imagined, the body-mind prepares itself appropriately by flooding itself with helpful chemicals and hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol — called to fight, our mind prepares our body to respond accordingly.
If fear is the acute need to adapt, then anxiety, by contrast, is the fantasy that we will not be able to adapt when called to…
Whether real or imagined, the result in the body is the same.
Anxiety ravages our physical body, while rewiring the physical circuitry of our minds, bundling neurons in such a way as to predispose the mind towards feeling this particular feeling more often than a positive, present state in the future.
This isn’t Eastern hokum. This is Western science.
This prevalence of anxiety in our minds contributes to a distinct way of being whether we are walking the streets in a war zone or in a peaceful city — one comes with real threats, the other with real worries.
Despite being deeply imbedded in this cycle, neither the reality of fear nor the delusion of anxiety can withstand the sustained discipline of our mindfulness practice. Notwithstanding real threats, our state of mind ultimately depends solely on one factor — whether or not we have developed a greater discipline than our small self has. An Outlaw knows that regardless of action on the street, there is at each and every moment a very real war going on for their minds, a battle between the chain smoking small self and the enlightenment seeking big self.
At some point the Outlaw has to look past the anxiety and ask themselves, “What’s wrong right now?”
Employ this tool…I dare you. Ask the voice inside you, is this a real threat? Should I honor this feeling? Or is this a fantasy, some anxiety that I’m cultivating?
Namaste and Happy Halloween, Yogis!
By Justin Kaliszewski
Justin Kaliszewski is a reformed meat-head and former amateur cage fighter. He brings a lifetime of travel and world's worth of experience in battling the ego to the mat. An avid student, artist, and treasure hunter, he infuses a creativity and perseverance into his teachings, along with a distinct blend of humor and wisdom that redefines what it means to be an Outlaw and a yogi...He teaches Outlaw Yoga across the country and is happy to call Denver home for now. Author of Outlaw Protocol: how to live as an outlaw without becoming a criminal, you can find him at www.outlawyoga.com.
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